Separation Anxiety

Separation Anxiety: What’s the best way to address it?

Readers of my 411 book series often send me questions about parenting or children/baby health. We are regularly asked about these issues at 411 Pediatrics, so I wanted to share this here in hopes that the advice might help you, too!

“My son is 10 months old. I bought the toddler 411 book to help with my issue, however he really didn’t fall into any of the tantrum categories. He is a perfect child, to a point where my mom recommends for us to not have a second child because he has spoiled us. He sleeps 10-12 hours a night and goes down easy. He also will go anywhere, go to anyone (handy at church nursery) and, for the most part (except when really tired) be pleasant.”

“Doesn’t sound much like I have a problem….. at least if I stay and play with him (or anyone for that matter). If I leave him in the living room or his bedroom and walk away from him he starts crying hard and tries to crawl after me. As soon as I return and start playing with his toys or pick him up, he’s back to normal. I would like to be able to do things without having to sit on the floor while he plays with his toys next to me. Yet if I say “I’m going to go to the kitchen” or “I’m going to go potty”  his response is usually. WAAAAAAAAA!.”“I don’t know how to teach him its ok to stay and play with your toys. How can I fix this?”


Welcome to separation anxiety!

We do cover a little bit about separation anxiety in Toddler 411 (as it makes a come back around 15 months of age) but the first peak is around 9 months.Rest assured, this is a normal developmental milestone. Prior to this time, your baby had no concept of “object permanence”—which means, prior to this if a toy fell to the floor or you hid it behind you, it no longer existed and kept your baby’s attention. The same held true for mom and dad—you came, you went, no big deal. But now, your baby knows that you continue to exist even when you disappear….and what the heck are you doing….and are you ever coming back?!! Add in the fact that your baby has no concept of time so even if you say, “I will be back in a minute” it will not relieve his fear that you might not be coming back. So, even if you leave the room to use the potty for 30 seconds, he is totally freaked out. (This is about the time most parents leave the bathroom door open to do their business….)These behaviors are magnified when you leave your baby with someone else–if the teacher at the church nursery is experienced, she should know that this age is the most challenging for separation anxiety–and it will pass. And yes, it is okay for him to play independently and not be held the whole time.

So, although it does cause some stress, you should still use the bathroom when necessary and leave your child in the nursery in capable hands of a teacher. Letting him know that you are leaving (don’t sneak out), and that you will be back is the best way to manage things to survive this phase. And, don’t feel guilty. Just know that your baby loves you and loves spending time with you!